Thursday, June 29, 2017


During the presidential debate of September 26th, 2016, the following exchange took place:

Hillary Clinton: Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

Donald Trump: That makes me smart.
On  June 28th, 2017, now-President Donald tweeted the following:

The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!
So I guess that makes Amazon's leadership smart.

Most of the discussion around this has focused on the idea that President Trump is a hypocrite who is attempting to have it both ways, a thin-skinned whiner who calls any media he doesn't like "fake news" or an idiot who either doesn't realize that there are no "internet taxes" in the United States or somehow missed the fact that does collect and remit state and local sales taxes. (Although given that many Americans see no differences between a price discount and tax evasion, and thus will make buying decisions based on not having pay the tax, I doubt they're very pleased about it.)

But this tweet, like a lot of others, can be boiled down to four words: Us good, Them bad. When Mr. Trump embraced tax dodging as a marker of intelligence during the campaign, he was holding himself up as someone who understood the system well enough to make it work for him - and therefore someone who understood it well enough to make it work for the people who supported him. And for many of those people, one of their primary grievances with (big) government wasn't its size, reach or spending habits; it was the fact that they perceived it as acting to benefit "Them" at the direct expense of "Us." And it's a common refrain. In the 1990's a politician from downstate Illinois was fact-checked after saying that rural Illinoisans were paying their tax dollars to support Chicago and the suburbs. Which locations, it turned out, paid some 60% of state tax revenues, while only receiving 15% in state spending, leaving rural downstate residents to have their wallets sucked dry to the tune of less than 50¢ in taxes for every dollar the state spent on them.

The mythical "internet taxes" that President Trump feels that Amazon should be paying are perhaps better viewed as a "Liberal tax;" money that wealthy liberals should be paying to make life better for the hardworking Conservative voters who elected him into office. And their failure to do so is portrayed as simply another way in which Liberal America is disloyal to the people who really matter. And likewise, their unflattering coverage (or covfefe) of President Trump isn't due to the fact that the President has done things that ideological opponents may disagree with, or even different views of the same events. It's cynical, and knowingly dishonest, payback for the President siding with his voter base, rather than the wealthy "élites" who think they should run everything.

It's a simple political strategy, and the President goes to that well over and over, because he can still draw water from it. It's unlikely to run dry anytime soon.

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